Virtual Meetings Take Center Stage

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Virtual Meetings Take Center Stage

In the 1990s, American businesses proactively embraced cross-functional and cross-border teamwork as a more effective way to solve problems and make decisions. The concept made sense: Instead of making decisions at the top of an organization, companies could draw on the diverse insights and experience of people at all levels, anywhere in the organization. Frequently, this involved partners outside the enterprise, up and down the supply chain. Unfortunately, the expected productivity benefits have largely been offset by the productivity-killing implications of the meetings used to implement the new paradigm.

According to an MCI Conferencing white paper prepared by Infocom,1 American businesses now hold an average of 11 million meetings each day, and the average corporate employee spends 37 percent of his or her time in meetings. For those in middle and upper management, the number is much higher.

And, for many of us, that time is not spent solely in the conference room down the hall. Global business and corporate partnerships imply going to meet people far away or having those people visit you. Because of the time and expense involved in traveling to attend meetings in person, the demand is growing for technology that enables “virtual meetings.”

Of course, teleconferences and primitive videoconferencing have been mainstays of business for the past 40 years, but until now, the cost-benefit trade-off has not been good enough to make the technology viable. That’s finally changed.

Why now? There are five primary reasons:

Executive time has become more precious. After years of delayering and downsizing, the executive ranks at many corporations are thinner than in the past, while the demands on their time are continually rising.

Companies have become more widely dispersed. According to Nemertes Research, 90 percent of company employees work away from their company’s headquarters. Because of globalization, mergers, acquisitions, telecommuting, outsourcing, and off-shoring, it’s become nearly impossible to get all of the people who have the information needed to make a decision into the same room at the same time.

Commercial airline travel is less convenient than ever. For example, the recent cancellations of hundreds of flights by JetBlue and USAir due to foul weather in New York showed just how easily commercial airline service can be disrupted.

Private jet travel is still prohibitively expensive for most executives who need to attend routine meetings...

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